What does Harper Lee reveal about Southern culture when describing Scout's community in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

 Scout describes her community fairly early in the novel as being "a tired old town when I first knew it." Harper Lee is often mentioned in the same company as William Faulkner in terms of an author's ability to evoke the character and idiosyncrasies of the Deep South because of her description of the fictitious town of Maycomb in the 1930's. In terms of societal attitudes, Scout describes what she calls Maycomb's "caste system" in this way:

. . .they took for granted attitudes, character shadings, even gestures, as having been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus the dicta No Crawford Minds His Own Business, Every Third Merriweather Is Morbid, The Truth Is Not in the Delafields, All the Bufords Walk Like That, were simply guides to daily living: never take a check from a Delafield without a discreet call to the bank; Miss Maudie Atkinson’s shoulder stoops because she was a Buford; if Mrs. Grace Merriweather sips gin out of Lydia E. Pinkham bottles it’s nothing unusual—her mother did the same.

Southern society is also well-depicted in Scout's descriptions of Aunt Alexandra's Missionary Society teas, where the delicate ladies gather in their dresses and hear reports about the less than effective efforts of one J. Everett Grimes to Christianize the heathen Mruna tribe of Africa.  The ladies are very concerned about the fate of the Mrunas if they do not become Christians, even as they gossip and pass judgement on Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson while eating teacakes at his home. This is one of a few places where Harper Lee seems to be suggesting a certain hypocrisy in some of the people of her community. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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